Example with a context (British 'severed heads' jihadi jailed for 12 years):

Imran Khawaja, 27, of Southall, west London, traveled to a training camp in Syria in January last year and joined Rayat al Tawheed, which became aligned with Islamic State, prosecutors had said.

Do you think it would really make a big difference in meaning here if we used said (simple past) instead of had said (past perfect)? I don't know, but I think the author could just as easily have used said in the simple past.

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    I agree. Using had said relates the time of the prosecution to the time of the sentence. But I'd read it just fine with just said. Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 15:17
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    I think the reason the reporter wrote "had said" lies in the sentence that came before the excerpt: ...was sentenced to 12 years in jail on Friday. The sentencing, and therefore what the prosecutors said, happened in the past, and the actions of Khawaja happened in the past also, so the inclination is to use the past perfect. I don't think it was necessary though. I think the style of the sentence tripped up the author; if he had written "Prosecutors said that..." the simple past would have been the obvious choice.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 20:15
  • I read the family have said as as past participle this writer used had said! Which I think is correct one action happens before another so its a time thing
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 2:22

1 Answer 1


From here:

The Past Perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past.

When you use the past perfect, and only specify one event, the other event is understood by context, or you are signaling to the reader/listener that there is another event.

So, the sentence above is implying that "prosecutors had said" before something else in the past. That "something else" is either part of context (something said earlier) or something I'm hoping to get in the next sentence.

When you don't use past perfect, the above implication doesn't exist. You are simply saying X happened in the past, but not necessarily before something else. It would make more sense to use simple past said if this sentence was completely standalone and not part of a paragraph describing the events of a trial or prosecution.

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